May 20—Jessup's revered annual tradition of St. Ubaldo Day with its legendary "Race of the Saints" is like nothing else in the Western Hemisphere. Part-colorful procession and part frenzied running by three teams of men carrying large wooden pedestals topped with small statues of their patron saints — St. Ubaldo, St. George (Giorgio) and St. Anthony (Antonio).
Italian immigrants from the medieval town of Gubbio in central Italy brought the St. Ubaldo Day celebration to their new hometown of Jessup in 1909, where they came to work in coal mines of Lackawanna County.
"La Corsa dei Ceri," or Race of the Candles, features large 'candle' pillars for each saint, carried by teams of runners, called ceraioli, and with each candlestick topped by a small saint statue. In what resembles organized chaos, the three teams, each with 40 to 50 members, charge through Jessup's winding, hilly roads before ending the race at Jessup Memorial Field Park.
Only two places do it
Jessup's St. Ubaldo Day race is a scaled-down version of the original in Gubbio, Italy, where the celebration of St. Ubaldo Baldassini began in the 12th century. Gubbio and Jessup are the only two places in the world that celebrate La Festa dei Ceri, which honors the life of Ubaldo Baldassini. Canonized by Pope Celestine III in 1192, Baldassini, or St. Ubaldo, is credited with saving Gubbio from an invasion of German Emperor Federick Barbarossa.
In 1155, Barbarossa began his invasion of Umbria, sacking and pillaging many of Gubbio's neighboring hill towns. The townspeople of Gubbio took to the city walls for safety. Ubaldo, at that time a bishop, slipped out of the city gates and began the long and treacherous hike up the mountainside to meet the conquerors in hopes of saving Gubbio.
After several days, the townspeople of Gubbio began to fear the worst of their beloved bishop's fate. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Ubaldo was spotted coming down from the mountain. A small group put him on a platform and raced him through the streets of Gubbio to reassure the town that he was unharmed and Gubbio would be spared. A celebration ensued and thus began the tradition of the festival. Years later, San Giorgio and Sant'Antonio were added to the festival to represent the social classes of Gubbio — Sant'Ubaldo (stonemasons), San Giorgio (merchants) and Sant'Antonio (farmers).
St. Ubaldo Day in Jessup went on hiatus in 1952 and was revived in 1976; and then had a second hiatus from 1990 to 2000. In 2020, the event went virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, there was a procession of a St. Ubaldo statue, but no race. The race resumed in 2022.
The whole borough gets involved with colorful banners and decorations adorning porches and homes starting in early May. Townsfolk identify with one saint's "family" and its colors — Ubaldo (yellow); George (blue); and Anthony (black). Some past race participants donned neckerchiefs of the color of their saint's team, including some that said, "Baldomania."
On race day, families and friends gather at homes and in yards throughout the town for daylong parties. The tradition got passed down year-after-year through several generations. Some residents who moved away return each year for the celebration.
St. Ubaldo Day annually draws more than 10,000 people.
Before the race, a procession with a large St. Ubaldo statue starts at the St. Ubaldo Society Cultural Center Chapel, 310 Third Ave., and walks to the race starting area on Powell Avenue.
The celebration continues on Sunday with Ceri Piccoli — a child-sized race for kids that began in 1977.Ubaldo apparel
Shirts, sweatshirts and banners are available for purchase at a Ubaldo apparel store within the Three Saints Barber Shop & Shave Parlor, 401 Church St., Jessup. See Three Saints on Facebook for hours. The barber shop sells the items on behalf of the St. Ubaldo Society.
If you go
DATE: May 27. St. Ubaldo Day is always held on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
TIME: The race starts at 5:30 p.m., but runners start assembling at least a half-hour earlier.
PARKING: With limited street parking, visitors should arrive early to find parking and walk to the race course.
WHERE TO VIEW THE RACE: Anywhere along the race course. Most people stand in crowds packing sidewalks on both sides of the race-course streets.
STOP-AND-GO: The race starts and stops several times to give teams periodic breathers. Most of the crowd also follows along, walking in front of or behind the teams when they pause to set up for the next burst of running. Team members also sub in and out of their team as it runs.
SPOILER: Ubaldo always wins.
FOR INFORMATION: See saintubaldosociety.org and Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau website.
6:15-7:45 a.m.: Drummers and band members from Valley View High School walk throughout town to wake up the dignitaries of La Festa dei Ceri
8-8:30: Wreath-laying ceremony at St. John's Italian-American Cemetery
10:30: A Mass in honor of St. Ubaldo at the St. Ubaldo Cultural Center, 310 Third Ave.
11:30: Announcement of the 2024 Primo and Secundo Capitani (First and Second Captains)
11:30-noon: Procession of saints, ceri and ceraioli/ceraiole from the St. Ubaldo Cultural Center to the former St. Mary's Church, 516 Third Ave.
Noon: Raising of the saints
12:30-1:40 p.m.: Each saint gets paraded throughout town, with stops at homes of past ceraioli/ceraiole
4:20: Procession of the large statue of St. Ubaldo, from the cultural center and along the race route in reverse
5:30: The Race of the Saints, starting on Powell Avenue and ending at Jessup Memorial Field Park. At the end of the race, a procession with all artifacts used throughout the day goes from the field back to the cultural center.
Finale: All artifacts get placed at the cultural center, with a closing prayer by the Rev. Andrew Kurovsky
La Festa dei Ceri Piccoli (children's race)
8:30-9:10 a.m.: Drummers commence on Powell Avenue.
9:20-9:40: Procession, wreath-laying and prayer service (meet at St. John's Italian American Cemetery); breakfast at the St. Ubaldo Society Cultural Center, 310 Third Ave., immediately follows.
10:45-11: Prayer service at St. Ubaldo Chapel, 310 Third Ave.
11-11:20: Saints assembled
11:30: Raising of the saints at St. Ubaldo Cultural Center.
11:50: Procession to the start of the course on Powell Avenue.
12:30 p.m.: Corsa dei Ceri Piccoli begins. The children's race ends at Veterans Memorial Field.
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